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Former San Diego Sheriff’s Captain Indicted For Alleged Illegal Arms Trafficking

A San Diego County Sheriff's Department cruiser in this undated photo.

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A San Diego County Sheriff's Department cruiser in this undated photo.

Former San Diego County sheriff's Capt. Marco Garmo was arrested Friday for allegedly running a longstanding illegal arms trafficking operation, in which he bought and resold guns available only to law enforcement for both financial and professional gain.

Prosecutors say Garmo, a 27-year member of the sheriff's department and former captain of the sheriff's Rancho San Diego station, illegally purchased and resold "off roster" handguns, firearms that may be sold to members of law enforcement, but not the general public.

A federal grand jury indictment alleges that over a six-year period, Garmo resold the firearms "at favorable prices" or exchanged them "for valuable services."

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Missing Firearms

Missing Firearms

A list of missing firearms released by the District Attorney's Office on Nov. 22, 2019.

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Prosecutors allege the firearms were trafficked in part "to build goodwill with future potential donors or benefactors who could advance his career or support anticipated political campaigns, including Garmo's expressed intention to run for San Diego County Sheriff, by obtaining firearms for them that they could not directly obtain for themselves."

Additionally, Garmo is accused of tipping off his cousin that a warrant search was imminent at the relative's illegal marijuana dispensary.

Garmo was placed on administrative leave earlier this year after a search warrant was served at his home and other locations. He later resigned from his post.

Also charged in the indictment are sheriff's Lt. Fred Magana, prominent San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel, firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta and El Cajon resident Waiel Anton.

Magana and Hamel pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the operation at their arraignment Friday morning, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Prosecutors say Magana purchased two off-roster guns for Hamel at Garmo's direction and offered to advertise Garmo's firearms to potential customers.

Hamel, who owns Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers, admitted to purchasing guns from Garmo without proper documentation. As part of the plea agreement, Hamel agreed to turn over more than 200 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition, prosecutors said.

Magana and Hamel are slated for sentencing Feb. 21.

Tilotta, owner of Honey Badger Firearms, is accused of aiding Garmo by submitting falsified firearms records and selling firearms inside Garmo's captain's office at the Rancho San Diego station.

Anton is accused of helping Garmo's customers apply for concealed carry permits as part of a "consulting" business, which allowed the customers to circumvent the CCW applicant backlog. He also allegedly repeatedly insisted that one of his customers — whom he was unaware was an undercover agent — lie to federal investigators after Anton's home was searched.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said in a statement issued Friday that "acts such as these are a violation of public trust and tarnish the reputation of law enforcement. I am disappointed by the actions of these two individuals, as they do not reflect the values of this department and its thousands of trustworthy, hard-working employees."

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